St Catherine’s Circle Member – Lisa Nicoll-Cooke (’63)

I completed Year 11 at St Catherine’s in 1962 to take up an apprenticeship with a Toorak Road clothing designer, Magg. In early January I was excited to commence work but after the first week I was “let go” and went home with one week’s wages of 4 pounds 17 shillings and 6 pence in pay.

Initially I thought my father would be very cross. However, on the contrary he was pleased as he had always wanted me to complete my Matriculation.  A few days later my father organised an interview at St Catherine’s with Headmistress of the day, Miss Mary Davis. I believe this is the first and only time my father visited the School.

The two conducted a conversation over my head and agreed I should return and complete my schooling. This was a life changing moment for me as it was the first time I ever heard an adult confirm their faith in my ability. Together they came to a decision and turned to me to ask my opinion. My immediate thought that day was that I had two younger brothers at Melbourne Grammar and was concerned about our family’s financial ability to pay for all three of us.

Miss Davis then opened a drawer in her desk, produced a piece of paper and declared that as the daughter of an Old Girl, I was eligible for Bursary which would pay half my fees. What a timely revelation and the problem was solved. I returned to school at the beginning of the new school year in 1963, worked hard and completed my Matriculation. I then went on to become a secondary school teacher.

I am not sure when I started to donate financially to the School, but I am a proud member of the Foundation. I have long had the ambition to include St Catherine’s as a beneficiary in my Will and took the steps to legally make my intentions formal in 1996, the year the St Catherine’s Circle was formed. My plan is to leave sufficient funds to establish similar bursaries for daughters, sisters, nieces and granddaughters of old girls who would otherwise not be able to afford a St Catherine’s education.

My mother Marjorie Sharp (1934), was the middle of two sisters, Mary Sharp (1925) and Patricia Sharp (1939). My time at School was followed by my cousins, Lorraine de Selle Du Real (1969) daughter of Mary and Jennifer Rose (1978) daughter of Patricia.

My own daughter Nicolle Austin (1988) has been followed by her daughter, my granddaughter, Eliza McCurdy (2025) in Year 8. Nicolle’s two sons Lachie and Will, both attended ELC St Catherine’s.

Women from my family have been attending St Catherine’s for nearly one hundred years and I would like this sense of family connection to continue for other School families. I feel so strongly about family connection that I am willing to support this financially.

Who could have known the events of that morning in 1963 would influence my life so significantly? All because the two people I most admired most believed in me.


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